Meeting strangers is a necessary part of everyday life. In our careers, we're introduced to strangers as new clients and new coworkers. At professional networking events, connecting with strangers is a primary goal. Even in a relaxed social setting, getting to know strangers is the only real way to make new friends.
For full-fledged extroverts, meeting strangers is thrilling, but for most of us, there's at least a slight tinge of anxiety when meeting someone for the first time. We all know the importance of making a first impression, and we all want to be well-liked from the start of any interaction.
Fortunately, there are a few tricks you can use to make strangers like you instantly:
1. Smile! The importance of smiling can't be understated. Walking up to a stranger with a sincere smile on your face instantly warms the situation and makes you look friendlier and more approachable. It sets a positive tone for the interaction and demonstrates that you're a nice, amicable person. As an added bonus, the mere act of smiling tricks your brain into releasing chemicals that make you feel happier. That way, you'll both enter into the conversation feeling happier and friendlier--and you'll seem more likeable from both ends.
2. Use their name a few times. People are hard-wired to love the sound of their own names. Once you learn a stranger's name, try using it in the conversation a few times where it seems natural (without overdoing it). For example, you could lead in with something like, "So, Bob, you said you were in sales, right?" It seems innocuous, but after a couple of mentions, your conversational partner will feel more connected and friendly toward you. Plus, repeating their name a few times will help you remember it--so you can avoid the embarrassment of using the wrong name and forgoing any hope of being well-liked.
3. Break the ice with some levity. Getting a conversation started is sometimes difficult, especially if you want to avoid resorting to small talk. Small talk isn't necessarily bad--talking about the weather or the event at hand is a perfect way to get those social gears moving--but opening with a joke will get you liked, more often and faster. Have a few humorous opening lines in your back pocket and try your best to improvise. Even if your joke doesn't land, the fact that you're trying to have fun will make you more likeable--just don't go overboard and fill your conversation with random jokes. It's very possible to overdo it.
4. Open your body language. The saying goes that actions speak louder than words, and in this case, it can certainly be true. The small gestures, twitches, and stances of your body language can guide a person to liking or disliking you, regardless of what other things you try to say. One of the best tips I've heard is to "open" your body language; keep your arms out (i.e., not in your pockets and not folded), keep your legs wide, and keep your torso and head pointed toward the person you're talking to. Eye contact also goes a long way.
5. Gesticulate. Gesticulating is the process of involving your hands and arms as compliments to your speech, such as pointing a finger to emphasize the inflection of a certain word. Doing this makes you more likeable because it demonstrates your energy and enthusiasm--generally, the more animated you are, the more positively people will respond to you. Again, it's easy to take this too far, so keep your gestures limited to a reasonable level of intensity and frequency.
6. Get them to talk about themselves. People love talking about themselves, and they particularly love talking about their passions. One of the best ways to get a stranger to like you is to ask lots of questions that keep them talking about themselves. Subtly keep the conversation going in a direction that reveals what they're truly passionate about in life, then stay on that subject for as long as possible. Pay attention to them and ask sincere questions. You'll probably see them light up as they talk.
7. Talk to everyone, all the time. This breaks the format slightly, since it isn't a one-time trick you can use immediately in the situation of meeting someone for the first time. Instead, it's a habit you should develop as part of your daily life. Talk to strangers wherever you can--on the bus, on the street, in a restaurant, at a sporting event--and get used to the idea that it's a natural part of yourself. This is going to help you in a few different ways; first, you'll get better at introducing yourself and making small talk. It's a skill, and like any skill, you can get better with practice. Second, you'll overcome any fears or hesitations you have about approaching people.
Don't psych yourself out of making a good first impression; it's a lot easier than you think it is. And remember, you're a stranger to them as much as they're a stranger to you. They might even pull some of these tricks out on their own to make you like them! Try not to overthink things, and instead focus on what you can control; the tone and direction of your conversation. Unless something terrible happens, the rest will take care of itself.